Leonard Cohen: Hallelujah Meaning
Song Released: 1984
Covered By: Rufus Wainwright (2007), Jordan Smith (2015), Pentatonix (2016)
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anonymous Mar 27th, 2010 3:45pm report
The first time I heard this song it touched me. Both the melody and the words are really powerful. This is my interpretation.
The logic of the song is there can be many different hallelujah's. Hallelujah can be said in many different circumstances.
Lennard Cohen uses this theme to talk about the hardships of love.
There are many biblical references in the song (King David, Samson and Delilah). I will not go in to them, other have already explained these references in great detail.
There are many versions of this song. Even LC did not always sing the same verses.
I believe the version he performed during his 2008 tour (maybe still does) is the most logical (complete):
Now I've heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don't really care for music, do you?
It goes like this
The fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah
David loves music, but his love does not. He does not understand this (is baffled) and tries to explain (the cords are matched by the actual song), thus composing the Hallelujah.
I believe this is about unmatched intrests in a relationship.
Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you
She tied you
To a kitchen chair
She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah
The man (David) falls in love, but the relation is not a healty one. It ends up with him submitting and losing his powers. It is a distructive relationship and the Hallelujah is one of dispair.
Maybe there's a God above
But all I've ever learned from love
Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew ya
And it's not a cry that you hear at night
It's not somebody who's seen the light
It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah
Maybe the most "black" verse, reflecting on the bitterness of love. When you hear a Hallelujah it's probably not because of joy (seeing the light), but because someone is hurting.
Baby I have been here before
I know this room, I've walked this floor
I used to live alone before I knew you.
I've seen your flag on the marble arch
Love is not a victory march
It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah
The relationship still exists, but it's hollow. It is like it was when he was alone. He has seen the glorious side of love (the flag on the marble arch), but the love is not lasting and his hart is broken, therefore the Hallelujah is cold and broken.
There was a time you let me know
What's really going on below
But now you never show it to me, do you?
And remember when I moved in you
The holy dove was moving too
And every breath we drew was Hallelujah
He remembers when things were good, how their lovemaking made him feel like they were really together, and their Hallelujahs were those of joy and ecstasy.
I did my best, it wasn't much
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you
And even though
It all went wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah
The conclusion of the song: Here LC turns from looking back to looking forward.
We try, but often fail in love. We start with the best intentions and though it can go wrong, we need to try. In the end it is worth it. This Hallelujah is optimistic, because it shows that the hardships have not defeated him.
This last verse is not included in most covers, but for me the last verse makes the song complete. It takes it full circle, bringing back the biblical relationship between the subject and a (the) Lord. It also gives the song a hyperbolic ending, which I prefer.
anonymous Dec 21st, 2016 12:30pm report
Knowing a little about LC's life may be helpful out. He was raised in a conservative Jewish family and his father was a Talmudic Scholar. Early in his life he was an admired and prolific poet. His poems, essays, and interviews made it clear he was in a life long struggle to understand God, which included a few years formally studying Buddhism. But, he always said that he was Jewish and had not abandoned his faith, and while he was not strict in his observance, when he passed away this year we learned he had requested a an Orthodox Jewish service.
So, what does that tell us about the song. 1st it helps to understand the subtle difference between the Jewish and Christian meaning of the word Hallelujah. For Christians it is a word of praise for God, a nown..."I Praise You". But in Hebrew, it is a direction, a verb...(You/We) "Give Praise to God". So, what LC is saying in all the stanzas is that he (we) must still give praise to God, even when we are "cold & broken".
His original recorded version only had the four verses that related to God and the struggle of faith. Years later he added the three new verses clearly related to the joy and pain of human love. In the Jewish faith, the joy in sex is one of God's gifts and to LC it had a spiritual dimension.
LC once claimed to have written many more verses for the song/poem? that were never published.
So, in the end it is an uplifting poem about the struggle to see the and understand the gifts of God. And, while LC was a Jew, he saw this as a common struggle for people of faith. And, as a poet, he would not be upset if you found your own meaning in his words. And, that's why he never bothered to explain them.
Most of the interpretations I have heard refer to biblical stories and of course it is impossible to ignore the analogies with King David and Bathsheba. However,I think these can obscure the meaning of the song and I would rather go beyond them. Analyzing a poem line by line sometimes misses the core of meaning which may actually be not fully realized by the poet himself.What after all was Kubla Khan, Coleridges poem about? It came out of a drug-induced reverie and the words are impossible to interpret literally.
What I see in the poem is a man who finds it hard to reconcile his own singular personal quest for truth as a spiritual seeker and as a creative artist with earthly love.He is "overthrown" by the beauty of the woman bathing on the roof and intoxicated with desire for her yet with that comes compromise.Being tied to a kitchen chair suggests being bound to domesticity and having his hair cut recalls Samson whose strength was lost when Delilah cut his hair.He feels he has sacrificed his power for ephemeral sexual desire,emotional needs and freedom from the burden of loneliness.
And inevitably the hallelujah, the ecstasy fades and withit bitterness and disillusionment since his lover has no feeling for creativity as evidenced by her lack of interest in music,his explanation of which seems to fall on deaf ears.
At the same time,the sexual magnetism, "down below" has diminished or even gone in the way that the energy of many relationships weaken into dead habit.
So there is a sense he has been left with nothing, doubting a god above and likening earthly love to a gunfight.It is as if he has betrayed his deepest yearnings and is only left with a cold and broken hallelujah, an empty exhortation, a state of inner desolation.
Yet the tone of the song is so bittersweet, so beautiful and sad that there might be a suggestion that he has reconciled those feelings and accepted the limits of the relationship,knowing that even sharing a life with someone cannot assuage his inner loneliness.
Hallelujah is a beautiful,ironic and melancholy masterpiece.
anonymous May 3rd, 2019 5:31am report
ive told the truth.. i didnt
come to fool you .. to me its my prayer and promise to god
anonymous Dec 19th, 2018 12:31pm report
I love it...Never knew all the lyrics, but after watching the special tonight and hearing both Leonard Cohen and K.D. Lang perform it feel I have a better understanding...It related to David/Bathsheba and Samson/Delilah...And life, love and Cohen’s own relationships...”Hallelujah”
anonymous Dec 18th, 2018 12:10pm report
Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen is a very deep but at the same time clear lyrics. The latest comment clearly explained the interpretation of this lyrics.
-The person who made comments on songs recently
anonymous Dec 18th, 2018 12:26pm report
Its a twin flame love expressed. mad and crazy love thats inevitable.A spiritual , physical and emotional love altogether.
anonymous Oct 3rd, 2018 10:18am report
I love what one of you said: " That's why the night has to come before the day." So true, this song speaks to everyone. The music and lyrics are genius together and this is hands down one of the best songs ever written.
anonymous Jul 5th, 2018 7:42pm report
I think it was about a girl he was with who did not care about music or the part when it says "she tied you to her kitchen chair she broke your throne and she cut your hair" he was in an abusive relationship or it could be both and when he says hallelujah it's because he got away from her and he was free I love the song though.
anonymous Mar 7th, 2018 3:26am report
As a Bible student and someone who spends a bit of time analyzing song lyrics I think the song has multiple layered meanings, however this is what it is about...
The song is about two biblical characters who allowed themselves to be lead away from God
for a time through sin by their lusts for a woman. Forbidden love and the consequences thereof that puts a might man of God in a weakened state and their praises to God a tainted.
David with Bathsheba (2 Sam 11) whom "he saw bathing on the roof". He sent Bathsheba's husband out to war and got the army to pull back and her husband was killed and David got Bathsheba pregnant but the child died and he was in great grief for a time. Halalujah or praising God became broken and hypocritical.
Samson, a Nazerite,(Nazarites were forbidden to cut their hair) he was the other biblical character who was decieved by Delilah and when she cut his hair his amazing stength was taken from him. By cutting his hair she took away his strength... "from your breath she drew the Halalujah".
At the start of the song it talks of David and the mysterious "secret cord"...
The line ‘the fourth, the fifth / the minor fall, the major lift’ is in fact a description of the chord sequence taking place under those words.
The IV chord, otherwise known as the fourth or the subdominant, is the chord built on the fourth tone of the scale. The V chord, a.k.a. the fifth or dominant, is the chord built on the fifth tone of the scale.
The ‘minor fall’ refers to the minor sixth chord, sometimes written as vi (to distinguish it from a major sixth chord, written as VI) which is the chord played under that phrase, and the ‘major lift’ is a reference to the fact that the chord has moved down to the major IV chord again, the same chord that was played under ‘the fourth’. It’s a ‘lift’ because although the harmony moves downwards, the melody keeps ascending. A song within a song! Those who do not understand music may not get this because...
"you don't really care for music do you"
Or Possibly Bathsheba in this verse is the woman that David killed for, and that the sarcasm is that the woman doesn't realize how great David's sacrifice was through breaking his relation with God by displeasing him.
(Either way Clever by Cohen)
The "Secret Cord" could be by Cohen an allusion to Arthur Sullivan’s immensely popular 1877 song ‘The Lost Chord’, a setting of Adelaide Anne Procter’s poem ‘A Lost Chord’. (Also the “secret chord” may refer to the Jewish tradition of an esoteric “eighth note” (to the diatonic?) which will be heard only when the Messiah comes. This would fit nicely with the fact that King David is considered, in many Jewish prayers and texts, to be a forerunner of sorts to the Messiah.)
David would play his lyre in order to soothe King Saul’s bouts of despair and depression. David’s chord pleased the lord,(King Saul?) Later, after David killed Goliath and his legend grew, King Saul grew jealous of David. One day when Saul was in bad state, David attempted to soothe him with the lyre. But Saul’s rage got the best of him and he attempted to kill David.
David eventually became the baffled King.
" the minor fall" David sinned and fell from God's favour for a time but "the major lift" he later became the King God needed!
The song is basically about the lust of the flesh or forbidden love that causes us to stray from God and causing our praise to the Lord to become tainted, broken and corrupted. It shows that even the best of us, no matter how nonle we are, whether we be saints or sinners, or go from one to the other we can all become lost, sweeped away, crazy and broken because of love, namely forbidden love.
anonymous Feb 21st, 2018 2:30am report
Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah is a curse being hurled to undermine faith in God. If one believed, as did the practitioners of the ancient religions, that music facilitates the trance-like state in which a person transcends normal consciousness, the song is a "gift" from an intelligence beyond Mr. Cohen.
The writer tells us that: "I heard there was a secret chord. That David played and it pleased the Lord." The story is from the Old Testament. But the writer goes on to tell us what the secret cords were. How could the writer know the secret cord that David played for God? He/She/It knows the cord meaning that the writer must be David, God, or perhaps some-one or some-thing else?
If you are not persuaded by this argument, and who would be, the writer then calls David a baffled king who composed a "Hallelujah". A hallelujah, as a previous commentator on tis thread wrote, is an exhortation to praise God. Does the writer want us to think that only a baffled king would exhort the faithful to praise God?
I will not bore everyone with a verse by verse interpretation of the lyrics, merely drawing your attention to a few verses. The writer asks us to:
"Remember when I moved in you/
And the holy dove was moving too"
You might assume that the writer had adopted the perspective of God, since He can move in you through the Holy Spirit, aka, the Holy Dove. But he is clearly not moving through you as the Holy Spirit. The Holy Dove was, after all, moving too. The next stanza removes any doubt as to who the writer is. The writer says, "Maybe there's a God above." Who but the Devil sows doubts about God's existence?
Following the plain meaning of the song, which I have done, Hallelujah is not about exhorting one to praise God. It is about a cold and broken Hallelujah. The dark lyrics and haunting melody are intended to allow another intelligence to bring you subtly and through the spirit of music into opposing your faith. It is done in the guise of calling the faithful to praise God.
anonymous Feb 20th, 2018 2:59am report
I believe what throws people off is the phrase, "kitchen chair". It is hard to imagine in David's time that someone would tie you to a chair. Yes, she (delilah) cut his hair/either physically, but more so in a spiritual sense, bringing him to a place he could still say "hallelujah" even through all of he could feel was his pain in life.
anonymous Feb 20th, 2018 2:11am report
Perhaps someone can explain how Elvis Presley was singing this song long before Leonard Cohen claimed to have written it
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